Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman Revealed
The Inside Story Of Sideshow Collectibles
Guardians Of The Galaxy Review
Nick Frost:
My Movie Life

The World's End star's pick of the flicks
Subscribe: 6 Issues For £15!
Subscribe today and save 37% off the cover price!
Empire Blogs
Words From The Wise

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Toronto 2013: Labor Day, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years A Slave

Posted on Wednesday September 11, 2013, 19:47 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Toronto 2013: Labor Day, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years A Slave

Going into Toronto, at the top of my to-see list was Jason Reitman's Labor Day, the director's first foray into straight drama. Reitman's comedies are usually character-based, so this seemed to be no bad thing, especially with the casting of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in the leads. I have to say the result is somewhat disappointing, especially since it is clear that Reitman can certainly handle the required shift in tone, and the film's better moments involve silence and a growing sense of tension. However, I don't think too many audiences will buy into the storyline, which promises a slick, Stand By Me-like tale of a boy's Last Summer Of Childhood but actually delivers a rather creaky melodrama that veers wildly between romantic licence and outright implausibility.

It begins in the supermarket, where Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) is shopping with his introverted divorced mother Adele (Winslet). The boy is accosted by a stranger, Frank (Brolin), who gruffly obliges Adele to take him back to her home so that he can recover from an injury sustained after jumping through a hospital window. Frank, it transpires, is a murderer, but from the soft-hued flashbacks that punctuate the film we soon get the idea that he's not, you know, an actual murderer murderer. This is the first hint that things are about to go awry in the movie; next thing, Frank is washing up, sweeping the yard and changing the oil in Adele's car, until a corner is turned when the runaway con is revealed to be an excellent pastry chef too. Unsurprisingly, Adele starts to fall for Frank's multi-tasking new man charms, initially to the delight of Henry, who badly needs a father figure.

That this happens at all is a little far-fetched, but the fact that it only seems to take a weekend is indicative of what's not quite so good about this otherwise well-played and well-crafted movie. If you try hard enough, you might see a little dash of Douglas Sirk in it, with the film's central couple recalling the frustrated lovers played by Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in There's Always Tomorrow. If you're not so forgiving, the sentimentality is apt to stick in the craw, a situation not helped by an unnecessary coda that takes schmaltz into a whole new dimension.

One of the main Toronto exclusives that skipped Venice is Dallas Buyers Club, the new film from Jean-Marc Vallée, a mid-’80s-set drama that stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff, a Texan electrician whose passions for sex, booze and drugs lead to infection with HIV after a one-stand with a junkie prostitute. The shocking paparazzi images of McConaughey's cadaverous look that appeared in the press recently are a sobering reflection of his performance here. Like Christian Bale in The Machinist, he is beyond gaunt, yet at the same time an electrifying, galvanising presence.

At first it seems pretty clear which way this film will go – like Philadelphia, it will see an avowed heterosexual and deeply homophobic man confront his fears and learn the value of compassion. Well, it does, but not in that same artfully contrived way – the big surprise in Vallée's film is how matter-of-fact it all is, and though by the end Ron is in business with a flouncing transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto), this is not that movie where the hard man mellows; by the end, Ron is still every bit the cantankerous curmudgeon, this time focusing his anger on the massed ranks of Big Pharma and the FDA, whose attempts to regulate the treatment of Aids patients using expensive and toxic drugs he tries to undercut by setting up a borderline-legal “buyers club” selling alternative medicine.

For me, Dallas Buyers Club was the first green shoot of awards season at TIFF this year: McConaughey is especially strong for a Best Actor nod as Woodruff, but don't under-estimate Leto's chances as the flaky, flirtatious but really rather fearless Rayon. It's a tough sell for Best Picture, but Vallée's film could be the sleeper of the season, if word of mouth gives it the all-important Hurt Locker factor.

Much more poised for awards buzz is Steve McQueen's pre-Civil War drama 12 Years A Slave (pictured), which reteams him with Michael Fassbender, who plays a secondary but significant supporting role. The real standout here, though, is Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose profile will skyrocket after this powerful and demanding film. However, although McQueen's film has ticked so many of the right boxes that the media have practically handed it the Best Picture Oscar already, 12 Years A Slave is not an assured winner. Technically, it is up to McQueen's usual high standards, and the ensemble cast is incredible (a SAG nomination is highly likely). But this is a very hard watch, not simply because it draws on such violent and emotive history but because its structure is so unforgiving and unrelenting. As the timeframe in the title suggests, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, but McQueen's film does not have the epic, classic sweep of, say, Amistad, rather the visceral, intimate nightmare feel of his feature debut Hunger: at its base, it, too, is about a man that only has one thing left in the world – his own body.

McQueen's masterstroke is to portray the story's protagonist, Solomon Northup, not as a hero but as a somewhat mild-mannered, middle-class family guy, a free man and musician who is offered work in a travelling circus and, after a night on the tiles, wakes up in chains, his identity taken from him. Solomon is nobody now, a chattel to be bought and sold, and the implications of that become horribly clear as he passes through the hands of a rondelay of slave traders and plantation owners. Like him, we have no idea how much time is passing, and the effect is profoundly disturbing. The situation becomes increasingly Kafka-esque, with Solomon shell-shocked by what he sees around him – the objectifying whites who treat blacks with contempt, and the cynical blacks who collaborate with their white paymasters. In this instance, comparisons with Holocaust stories are entirely apt; after the empowerment fantasy of Django Unchained, Solomon's chilling passivity brings home the true unvarnished horrors of the antebellum South.

It's tough to know what the film's prospects will be on the basis of one festival outing, since the film's forbidding subject matter, cyclical structure and explicit violence – the whippings are the most sustained since John Hillcoat's The Proposition – are not the stuff of crossover. Nevertheless, McQueen has created some breathtaking images here, indelibly personified in the character of slave girl Patsey (the terrific Lupita N'Yong'O) – like the girl in the red coat of Schindler's List, the very symbol of innocence destroyed, crushed by man's will to evil.

Login or register to comment.

Currently No Comments

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (439)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (35)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Not For The Faintheart(ed)
By Damon Wise

The Transsiberian Connection
By Damon Wise

Ride The Wave And Take The Fall
By Damon Wise

When Damo Met Shane Meadows
By Damon Wise

It's That Guy From That Thing
By Damon Wise

It's Not All Work Work Work
By Damon Wise

The Dopeness Of The Wackness
By Damon Wise

Busy, busy, busy...
By Damon Wise

Poncey Drinks, Torture Porn And Fairy Cakes
By Damon Wise

In Pictures: Keira And Sienna At The Festival
By Amar Vijay


RECENT COMMENTS

Ride The Wave And Take The Fall
"When do we get it though? Having seen the trailer so many months ago I'm desperate to see it.  r1x
Read comment

Ride The Wave And Take The Fall
"Apparently Tarsem told the little girl in the Fall that Lee Pace really was paralysed which made her"  spyro
Read comment

The Transsiberian Connection
"Session 9 is a great film! If it wasn't the the silly ending, it would be a modern Horror classic"  Cethan
Read comment

Ride The Wave And Take The Fall
"Completely agree on The Fall. Almost certainly my favorite film so far this year."  Will Goss
Read comment

Ride The Wave And Take The Fall
"Nice write-up on The Fall. I decided many months ago that I was looking forward to this, despite the"  Acho
Read comment

When Damo Met Shane Meadows
"Meadows is a bit of a legend alright. Dead Man's Shoes is being shown in Dublin this weekend, as par"  Acho
Read comment

It's That Guy From That Thing
"I feel like I've been hearing about the visitor for months. Damn festival circuit, getting to see th"  Acho
Read comment

An Australian In Edinburgh
"I didn't know you're Australian Sam. No reason why I should've, I guess. Any chan"  Acho
Read comment

Just Listen To That Serenity...
"Hiam Abbass was at the showing at the weekend? GUTTED. Saw it earlier this week and I've been dying "  Daniel!
Read comment

It's That Guy From That Thing
"The Visitor was a good film, very good at points, but it did threaten in its first act to become a m"  Daniel!
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Ride The Wave And Take The Fall
4 comments

Busy, busy, busy...
3 comments

Poncey Drinks, Torture Porn And Fairy Cakes
2 comments

It's That Guy From That Thing
2 comments

When Damo Met Shane Meadows
2 comments

The Dopeness Of The Wackness
1 comments

The Transsiberian Connection
1 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (297)
Helen O'Hara (167)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Ian Nathan (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
David Parkinson (1)

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Empire's The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies Covers Are Here
Bard The Bowman or Smaug The Magnificent?

A Pocket Guide To Game Of Thrones’ New Cast Members
Know your Doran Martell from your Nym Sand

Directors Special: Peter Hyams Goes Film-By-Film
The veteran director on Timecop, Outland, 2010, Enemies Closer and more

Explore The Massive Avengers: Age Of Ultron Comic-Con Banner
Use our interactive gadget to zoom in on Hulk, Iron Man, The Vision and co. in action

The 10 Biggest Stories Of Comic-Con 2014
The shocks to emerge from this year's geek-fest. Avengers! Max! Mann!

Models Inc.: The Inside Story Of Sideshow Collectibles
How the likes of Batman, Superman and Luke Skywalker become collectible figures

The Empire Podcast #121: Brett Ratner Talks Hercules On This Week's Show
Plus The Purge: Anarchy producer Jason Blum pops in to talk horror

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time Subscribers' Cover

Subscribe today and get the cover and 3 issues for only £10!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)